Loverboy: Cannes 2011 Review

This accomplished but grim drama of sexual exploitation occupies the second tier in modern Romanian cinema.

The Romanian drama, directed by Catalin Mitulescu, stars George Pistereanu and Ada Condeescu.

The dismal life options that can induce a pimp to whore out his girlfriend, and for her to go along with it, are laid out in prosaic yet vivid fashion in the Romanian drama Loverboy. The second feature, after The Way I Spent the End of the World, which showed in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2006, by Catalin Mitulescu, is dominated by sullen young men in sunglasses bombing around forlorn landscapes on scooters and in sports cars and generally having their way with teenage girls with prospects even more meager than their own. It's a forlorn milieu, but still fertile enough for tragedy, however drab. While not a major Romanian film, this is still one of some interest for followers of that nation's cinematic flowering.

Loverboy stars George Pistereanu and Ada Condeescu, both of whom debuted last year in Florin Serban's If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle, which was co-written and produced by Mitulescu. Set mostly along a grim stretch of road not far from an industrial port city along the Danube, the story is strongly wedded to its location, a place where nothing much ever happens or ever will, where you either get out or live the most proscribed of lives.

But if you look like Luca (Pistereanu), a trim, dark-haired gigolo-type with the air of a French or Italian movie star circa 1960, your prospects can be a bit brighter, at least for a while. After a brush with the law involving the fate of a former lover, he lolls around, regarding the world impassively from behind his sunglasses, saying little, waiting for something new to turn up.

She does, eventually, in the form of ripe-for-the-picking farm girl Veli (Condeescu). “If you were smart, you'd stay away from me,” Luca warns her early on in a rare moment of direct honesty. “Maybe I'm not smart, then,” she admits with equal forthrightness. With some others, they cavort on a lonely beach all night, he gets a warning from her shepherd father (who seems to exist in another century) and they finally have sex, her for the first time.

Even though Luca seems genuinely fond of Veli and perhaps even might come to love her in his own way, their increasing bond also seals her fate; with a “loverboy” like Luca, it's a shockingly short step from being a girlfriend to becoming a prostitute, first to be passed around to his buddies, then to be sold to pimps in Italy and beyond.

In the unemphatic manner of much of the new Romanian cinema, where mundane events slowly accumulate to eventually pay off in a startling, revelatory climax, Loverboy is comprised mostly of routine, borderline dull everyday activities enacted by characters that do little to enlist great interest or sympathy; Luca is the sort of sexy but arrogant lout for whom, in real life, those not under his immediate spell would have quick contempt. His corrupting influence adds further to his odiousness, even if, in the end, he reveals enough self-awareness to express some remorse and ask forgiveness.

Mitulescu's straightforward dramatic and visual approach corrosively exposes severe moral and societal malaise without the assistance of melodrama or overt editorializing.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Sales: Celluloid Dreams
Production: Strada Film, Film I Vast, The Chimney Pot, Cinelabs Belgrad
Cast: George Pistereanu, Ada Condeescu, Ion Besoiu, Clara Voda, Bogdan Dumitrache, Coca Bloos, Remus Marginean, Alexandru Mititelu, Adina Galupa
Director: Catalin Mitulescu
Screenwriters: Catalin Mitulescu, Bianca Oana, Bogdan Mustata
Producers: Daniel Mitulescu, Catalin Mitulescu, Marcian Lazar
Executive producer: Florentina Onea
Director of photography: Marius Panduru
Production designer: Daniel Raduta
Costume designers: Augustina Stanciu, Chinyere Eze
Editors: Cristiana Ionescu, Stefan Ioan Tatu
98 minutes